A Tampa Tribune reporter who resigned amid allegations he fabricated parts of a story also violated ethical standards in other stories, the newspaper said Saturday.
Brad Smith, 51, resigned in April when confronted with questions about a story regarding private towing companies. The newspaper said Smith fabricated an anecdote that opens the story about a woman who had her Jeep towed while she was visiting nightclubs.
After an internal investigation, the newspaper said Smith, in a story about a hair removal salon, quoted paid endorsers as though they were regular customers. The newspaper said Smith did the story after a public relations agent representing the company suggested it to him.
Smith knew, or thought, one of the people he quoted was paid by the company, the newspaper said.
In another instance, a source who had social ties to Smith said he fabricated quotes by her with her permission. Smith denied that claim, insisting the quotes were correct, the newspaper said, while adding that using quotes from social acquaintances in his stories can cause bias and lead to conflicts of interest.
“I don’t know where the journalism rule is that you can write only about perfect strangers,” Smith told the newspaper for a story published Saturday. A telephone message left by The AP for a Brad Smith in Tampa was not immediately returned Saturday.
In at least one other story Smith used quotes from other publications without giving credit, the newspaper said.
“The only story I would concede to having second thoughts about was the towing story,” Smith said. “I admit I should not have done that. These other things are a tempest in a teapot.”
The newspaper said it contacted 250 sources during the probe, and the vast majority said they were quoted correctly.
“None of these findings rise to the level of the tow truck story,” said Janet Weaver, the Tribune’s executive editor. “But it’s an interesting view of how a slippery slope is constructed.”